Imagine a cure-all pill that can help manage high blood pressure, manage cholesterol, reduces anxiety and depression, and so much more. If such a pill existed, would you take it? But what’s the catch? The catch is that this pill takes 30 minutes/day to swallow. And one more thing, it’s not a pill...it’s exercise.
It can be easy to get caught up in thinking that exercising only counts if it’s done at a gym or going out for a run. The reality is, exercise as medicine can work without doing high-intensity workouts. In fact, it's possible that you never have to go to another gym, fitness class, or run for the rest of your life to achieve the same health benefits. High-intensity workouts have their benefits, and there are so many good things that can come from simply moving more.
In the phrase "exercise as medicine," exercise is defined as breaking the sedentary routine. Examples of exercise include:
- Stair climbing
- Bike riding
- Standing up from and sitting down on a chair
Anytime we talk about taking a medicine, it’s important to discuss the prescription. What type? How much? How often? Refer to this chart below for answers.
You'll notice that light activity is all you need, not a high-intensity workout. (You’ll notice that the above chart is entirely light activity.) If you think I’m suggesting that doing a 30-minute leisure walk in the neighborhood 5-7 days/week is enough to fight against all these things listed, you would be right! Simply swallowing this 30-minute pill each day is enough to fight against all of these things. Will it cure all of them every time? Maybe not, but with proper nutrition and reducing stress in your life you will see progress. Even if poor nutrition and great stress, going from zero activity to 30 minutes/day can help improve these healthy measures by up to 50%. The American Journal of Psychiatry found that simply walking for 1 hour/week can be enough for some to significantly reduce feelings of depression. Another study done at the University of Pittsburg showed that 30 minutes of light activity every day was enough to fight against heart disease, insulin resistance, and increase overall stamina.
Once you have mastered the light activity or leisurely movement, adding in 20-30 minutes/day of moderate to high-intensity exercise, 2-3 days/week can be the icing on the cake. The higher intensity days will put greater stimulus on the body to build stronger bones, joints, and an even more efficient cardio-respiratory system. A study done at McMaster University revealed that 3 days/week of a 12-minute interval training routine done on the recumbent bike had similar benefits as doing the traditional 45-minute treadmill routine. They saw improved blood sugar management improved resting heart rate. With that in mind, this 30 minutes can be broken up into smaller intervals and still provide that same benefit. As an example, 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening is just as effective as doing 30 minutes all at once.
In closing, exercise used correctly can be the most potent medicine out there. Strive for 30 minutes of leisurely activity each day. And if you’re up for it, throw in 2-3 days/week of increased intensity for 15-20 minutes and you will be surprised at how much better you will feel in both body and mind.